The Barefooted Girl

(The following short story plays an important role in my growth as  a writer. It was written at the point when one stage of my literary career was drawing to a close and when another was slowly emerging. Written when I was just beginning to learn the basics of creative writing, this is my first “technically informed” short story. It would also prove to be the penultimate short story in my tendency to put personal elements in my works. Most importantly, this was arguably my first “hit:” The story appeared in the Banaag Diwa, Literary Folio released by the Ateneo de Davao University’s Atenews  in 2009, and it was my second published work. It proved to be notoriously popular. For the first time in years, they say, the Banaag Diwa ran out of stock, primarily because of the story. I received castigation from the Atenews Moderator for discussing “a true story” (though I was first year, I had no idea something similar happened). A friend, crying, compelled me to read it because it was “a true story,” before I pointed out to her that I wrote it. Perhaps, if the AdDU Student body had a better memory, they’d still be talking about this. Of course I’ve matured since I wrote this, but I’m still quite pleased with what I was able to write with what little skill I had.)

The Barefooted Girl

By: K.A. Galay-David

I put my slippers on.

It was Saturday. The three o’ clock Sun was hiding behind the floating mountains of cloud, thus staining the peaks with a deep shade of copper. The city of Davao, now beginning to shift from her daytime business to her nocturnal vibrancy, was being bathed by the light that escaped through the clouds with a shade of reddish gold. The light gave a warm feeling, but it was not too hot as to burn the skin.

Our boarding house had a pretty convenient location for an Atenista like me. It was just adjacent to the Del Rosario Hall, and looking from the boarding house’s balcony, you could already see the corridors of the AdDU.

With my handbag on my shoulder, an umbrella in one hand and my long hair tied up in a pony tail, I went out from my dormitory and through the gate that faced the busy C.M. Recto Avenue.

Because it was a weekend, there weren’t any classes. I had no requirements left to do, for I finished making them already, and I had already studied that night. My dorm mates all went home to their provinces and I was one of the few that remained in Davao. The others who remained were out, so I was the only person in the dorm at that time.

In other words, I was bored.

So I decided to go to the Gaisano mall. It was a great opportunity to get to know the city better because you see, even though I was born here in Davao some sixteen years ago, I practically grew up in the nearby city of Kidapawan, which was a two hour trip away. I needed to be familiar with Davao, because after all, I was going to live in it for the next four years.

To make the experience even more intimate, I decided not to ride a Jeep, but to walk all the way to the mall. The sun wasn’t that hot, anyway, and a rare wind was blowing from Laurel Avenue towards the direction in which the Marco Polo stands.

I crossed Magsaysay after the traffic allowed me to. The Chinese gateway nearby was at the corner of my eye.

Then, I passed by the STI campus. It was a small building, and if you didn’t look closely, you would not realize that it was actually a campus. It seemed to blend with the stores that were around it.

“Hi, ate Sarah.” said a little Badjao boy to me as I passed him by.

He was a rather ugly sight, with short, brown hair, dirty looking skin and a very flat nose that had a bit of mucus dangling from one of its nostrils. He was wearing what looked like a sando shirt and a pair of shorts that were meant for toddlers rather than six year olds like him.

He was one of those street children I and Shooti often pick up and treat to fast-food chains and restaurants.

“Oh, hi.” I replied rather meekly. I must be honest, of all the children we picked up, I could remember only a few, because there were so many. This boy was barely in my memory.

I went ahead after ruffling his hair. He, too, went away with a spring in his steps, towards the other direction.

After crossing Abrille, I began thinking about Shooti.

His real name was Andy Lao, but his friends called him Shooti. He was my friend since we were in grade school, and now that we were in college, we still remained friends.

Shooti was a very good looking boy. That, I can tell you. He had this dark brown hair that he often gelled and brushed backwards. His complexion was yellowish but pale, making it obvious that he had Chinese blood. His eyes were, also because he was a Sangley, typically narrow and sharp cornered, but his pupils were strikingly brown, a trait that he got from his mom. It was also from his mother’s side of the family that he got his beautifully thick eyebrows, which were emphasized by the high brow ridges he had. He also had really highlighted cheekbones that made him look mature. This was paradoxically but rather amusingly contrasted by his reddish, delicately protruding lips, which gave him a boyish charm. He was really handsome, and he could be mature or childish if you wanted him to.

But what I really liked about him were his hands. He had these really mature looking hands, laden with veins here and there. They had really emphasized angles, which made them look manly. I would often steal moments from him, mischievously taking those hands and caressing them.

He was your typical 20th century boy during our elementary years. It was hard to talk properly to him because if he wasn’t in the internet café playing computer games, he’d be with his friends talking about computer games.

But for a certain period of time, he got tired of it. Since Counter Strike at that time was the only game that could be played, he got bored with it and decided to do something else. It was during this time, after Counter Strike became popular and before DotA was designed, that I spent a lot of time with him.

It was during this time as well that I learned that he was a very interesting person after all. Having read a lot of books in his free time, along with having watched a lot of Anime titles, he could talk about a topic with me and make it really interesting. I remember when we were talking about Chinese literature, and he mentioned Journey to the West. He pointed out that the monkey king, Sun Wu Kwong, was actually the basis for the main character Son Goku in the anime Dragon Ball. He also had this really fun habit of telling a seemingly boring story in a very exciting way. Like when he talked with me about the French Revolution. He mentioned how one woman, namely Marie Antoinette, brought down the monarchy. He related it to me with a tone that made you think he was gossiping.

But when we entered High School, we became distant from each other. There were many reasons why. One could be that we had different sections. Then, there was also the fact that DotA was becoming popular among the internet cafés.

My High School years, which my uncle once described as being “the best years of your life,” were quite a lonely stage for me. Sure, I had friends, but it was him that I wanted to be with…

I was now walking towards Santa Ana. The sun was poised towards my face, so I opened my umbrella.

My mind returned to the past.

After we graduated from High School, I decided that I’ll be taking up MassCom. I was, after all, known for being talkative and very outgoing.  The course suited me perfectly.

I was really happy when I met Shooti during the first day of classes in the AdDU. He was taking up Nursing, and I could have sworn he was going to SPC, but it turns out, his parents didn’t want him to go there because they found the hospital to be dirty and the uniform unflattering.

So we became close again, me and Shooti. This time, I could see that he has changed. It had been a while since we spent a lot of time together, and now that I was with him, I felt quite surprised as to how different he had become.

He no longer had long hair, but it was now short and spiky. He had a few pimples on his face, and he looked a bit dirty, with all the unnecessary accessories he wore. He also grew taller and a bit thinner. He looked more mature, but not in the way that he used to. It was a rather sad form of maturity, somewhat ruddy and untidy.

We got to talk a lot, especially there in front of the chapel and in the lounge of Finster’s fifth floor. It had been a while since we had our last conversation, and I could still sense the brilliance that I admired back then as I talked to him. But I also noticed how dull that brilliance had become.

We once had one of these conversations in front of the Chapel, just below the Mahogany trees. As we idly talked, I rather jokingly asked if he had a girlfriend.

The wind suddenly blew that afternoon, and the noise of the students seemed to have been dispelled for a moment. All was still…

Then, he said yes.

I cannot say without lying that I could ever forgive him.

He mentioned that it was Marielle Cipriano, or “Maying” as her friends called her. He mentioned that they got together since third year, and that they were going on three years in a month. After that, he never mentioned the topic again.

Maying Cipriano was this popular girl in High School. Back in Elementary, it was my cousin Marian who was popular. But after Marian left to study in AdDU High, Maying took the popularity. Those two never really got along, because Marian was always sophisticated, often speaking in English and having very classy mannerisms. Maying, on the other hand, always contradicted Marian, saying that she wasn’t “being true to herself.” When Marian left, Maying changed the trend from wanting to be classy to wanting to be simple. With this, the Emo trend also began rising.

I heard that Maying was going to SPC, also taking up Nursing.

Somehow, the idea that Shooti had a girlfriend never really sank into me. It was like I was aware of it, but I never really believed it. Shooti wasn’t the kind of boy that would even consider having a girlfriend. He was too busy playing DotA.

No, it couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible. He had to be joking…

At length I arrived at the crossing of Santa Ana, Laurel and Quirino. I was standing beside the traffic light, waiting for the traffic to give me the opportunity to cross and go to the mall, which was just beyond the street.

It was about three thirty. The traffic allowed the vehicles coming from Quirino to enter Santa Ana and vice versa.

I could see people walking from the alley along Santa Ana to the Mall.

Finally, the flow of the traffic allowed me to cross the street. As I did so, I was closing my umbrella.

As I walked along the same alley that I was eying a while ago, I passed by various stalls. Some were selling peanuts. Some where selling these skinned pineapples. Some takatak boys were sitting on the stone benches with their wooden boxes filled with cigarettes and candies. A few of them recognized me. They must’ve been some of the children I and Shooti treated as well.

Soon, I came into the main entrance of the Gaisano Mall. It was a Saturday, so there were expectedly a lot of people.

The guard looked into my bag before I was admitted to enter.

Upon entering, I went down the basement, where the grocery department was.

Of course, if one would go through there, one would pass by the National Bookstore. I could see from outside the best selling books, among them the works by Haruki Murakami and Gabriel Marquez.

When I went down the basement, the smell of freshly baked bread greeted my nose. The bakeshop near the stairs was packed with costumers.

I walked towards the Baggage counter, which was all the way up ahead. I planned to enter the groceries and leave my bag there.

When I arrived there, I fancied to first look at the pet shop which was right beside the escalator.

It was more like a pet stall than a shop, because there wasn’t a concrete or even a wooden building that defined it. It was just a cluster of shelves with fish tanks on them. There were also cages for bunnies and a few tanks for turtles.

There, I enjoyed watching the Bichirs swim up and down the tank. I liked Bichirs. They were really elegant and snakelike fish that were affectionately labeled “dragon fin” by the pet shops. It made me feel relaxed watching them play around the tanks, lazily settling at the bottom after frolicking. They reminded me of souls, hovering from one grave to another in some ethereal cemetery.

After I spent some time in the pet shop, I decided to go back to the baggage counter.

I turned around.

What I saw rendered me frozen.

There, approaching the baggage counter from the direction of the stairs was Shooti. Beside him was Maying Cipriano.

Shooti was wearing a pair of denim shorts and a fitting black shirt with short sleeves and the number “8” in front written in pink. He was wearing sandals.

Maying was wearing really revealing shorts. Her shirt had really short sleeves, so much so that it seemed sleeveless. She had shoulder length hair and had bangs. She also had fake glasses on.

Her left arm was around his right, as his left hand was busy texting.

They looked intimate.

Before I realized it, I ran towards the nearby exit, just near the escalator.

Once out, I ran.

I ran all the way in front of the mall, back to the corner of Santa Ana and Laurel.

I was trembling.

I was trembling heavily.

I was trembling heavily and I couldn’t stop trembling.

While waiting for the traffic to allow me to cross, I saw a trisikad pass by. I called it and asked the driver to take me to Jacinto. He agreed.

We headed towards Santa Ana. And then we entered a labyrinth of streets. My mind and my heart just got lost within that maze of five minutes.

Left…

Right…

Forward…

Left again…

Finally, we entered Juan Luna and eventually reached Jacinto. The trisikad brought me in front of our dorm’s Jacinto gate when I pointed towards it.

As I came down, I gave the driver a twenty peso bill. Then I ran back into the dorm.

I didn’t give any heed to the people and things around me as I entered. I didn’t really care. I just went in, my heart confused as to what it should feel.

When I entered the dorm, I rushed to my room.

I took my slippers off.

I fell on the bed and, before I knew it, I cried.

I cried.

I cried and I cried.

The picture of Shooti came into my mind…

He was with Maying, and they were holding hands.

Suddenly, their faces drew nearer.

And nearer…

And nearer…

They brought their tongues out and let them enter each other’s mouth…

Yes.

This was what Shooti is now. I have to swallow the truth.

He was no longer the boy next door of my childhood. He was no longer the innocent, naïve boy that I knew.

Yes.

Shooti has changed. He is a different person now.

I didn’t want to let go of the past, but now, the past wants to let go of me. I have no choice.

I have to forget.

Those happy days when we used to talk…

The way he explained to me about the many novels that he read and what made them fun to read…

The time he looked really thrilled when he was telling me about how Sakura and Shaoran ended up…

That boyish laugh that he gave when we were joking around…

I have to forget all of that.

All of those memories were gone.

Shooti was no longer the person I knew.

I should have known this ever since we started bonding again. But no. I denied it. I kept my eyes closed, not wanting to see the truth that Shooti is no longer the boy next door I know.

But now, I am forced to swallow the truth.

And so, I cried and I cried, trying to forget that those days even existed in the past.

And here I was now, still crying. Crying for what seemed like eternity. Crying like a child who was ultimately aware that her crying is futile.

I cried. I cried without my slippers on. No. I didn’t want to put them on again. No, I didn’t want to wear those slippers again…

Suddenly, the phone rang.

Our boarding house had a landline telephone, and the boarders get to use it.

I dried my tears and cleared my throat. If I was going to answer the phone, I didn’t want the person to know that I was crying!

I went out of my room and approached the phone.

“Hello, good afternoon.” A said courteously as I answered it.

“You’ve been crying.”

It was Marian’s voice. There was no mistaking it. The way she said that so casually but so strikingly gave away who she is.

“Can I help you?” I asked, trying to deny her allegations.

“Don’t feign ignorance, Sarah. You know that this is Marian.”

“Oh, Marian. It’s you. What is it?”

“Oh, nothing, I’m just bored. Would you mind meeting me today?”

There was always something about Marian that both convinced me and commanded me to do what she wanted.

This time, I could tell what it is.

I was troubled, and I needed someone to comfort me. Marian would be the perfect person to talk to.

“Okay, where?”

“You know this coffee shop called the Kasagingan?”

“Yes. I do.”

“Fine. I’ll meet you there.”

“Okay.”

“Bye.”

Then she put the phone down.

I went back to my room and began to fix myself as I looked at my reflection in the mirror.

After a few minutes of retouching my foundation and fixing my hair, I put my slippers on again and left the room with my handbag in hand.

When I finally reached the Jacinto gate of our dorm, I looked towards my right, towards the direction of the Ateneo’s Jacinto gate, towards the direction from which the trisikad came out from Luna.

Suddenly, I felt like looking at the Acacia trees.

There were these two Acacia trees that grew inside Ateneo. Their branches reached out to the alley along Jacinto, and they were very visible from there.

I loved Acacia trees. Even when I was in kindergarten, I would stay beneath this large Acacia tree in our school and just stare at it until it was time for me to go home. I never get tired of looking at it, because it has so many branches, and I find it fun to trace where each branch comes from.

So I walked towards the Acacia trees. It was just a short walk away from the gate.

When I arrived beneath the canopy of the one nearest to the library inside, I stopped.

Then, I looked up.

A few birds were chirping as they hopped from one branch of the tree to another. Here and there were small flowers, little tufts of red that resembled darts.

Ah! They were darts, and they pierced through my unrest.

Seeing the tree, in all its simple complexity, calmed my stormy mind.

I remembered Shooti again, but this time, in a more positive light.

I remember the times that we spent helping little children on the streets. Shooti had a very compassionate heart, and he would ask me to go with him and walk around the city, picking up street children and treating them to fast food chains.

It was a very funny event, the first time I saw him do so. He just invited me to take a walk along San Pedro. Then, when he saw this dirty looking boy there, he beckoned him to stand up. He then took the boy’s hand and gently dragged him to the nearby Jollibee branch. There he asked the boy what he wanted. The boy couldn’t believe what he was hearing, but replied that he just wanted a regular Yum after Shooti repeated his question.

He would do it in almost any given place. He would sometimes pick three to five children up, and at one time, he even treated a child to a fast food branch in SM. He took the kid all the way from the Victoria Plaza, and we rode a taxi to Ecoland.

The birds continued on chirping. One of them hops down and sits inside one of the large Staghorns that grow on the tree’s trunk. The Staghorns looked like balconies as the tree itself seemed like a Majestic Palace of fairies.

Shooti has changed, I thought. But now that I think about it, there’s nothing wrong with that. The Shooti I know is still there, still kind and compassionate. He might’ve changed a bit, but nothing will change the fact that he is a kind-hearted person. He might have accepted some influence from the Powers of this World, but he shall never let them tarnish his innocence, that same innocence which I have known since childhood…

A wind blew. The yellow leaves, whose death sentences were long overdue, finally let go from their twigs and fell on me like confetti.

Suddenly, amidst the rustling of the leaves, I heard a deep sobbing.

I looked towards the direction of the Ateneo’s Jacinto gate.

There, walking along the street towards my direction was a little girl. She was wearing a very loose blue shirt, something that looked like it was handed down from generation to generation. She walked dragging her bare feet forward, and her head was bowed down.

She was barefooted.

When she drew nearer, she raised her head up.

She was crying. The dust of the streets that clung unto her face was washed away by her flowing tears. Her nose, flat and unflattering, was runny. Her lips, thick, dark and rough as large raisins, were quivering in a pathetic pout. Her long, brown and frisky hair was tangled, with some strands sticking to her sweat-soaked forehead.

She looked at me with eyes that showed misery. Then, suddenly, the misery was changed to a somewhat desperate surprise.

She began to speak with a trembling voice.

“Ate..?”

She seemed to know me.

“What’s wrong, little girl?” I asked in Bisaya. “Can I help you?”

She was trembling.

“Ate… Don’t you remember me?” she replied in Bisaya as well.

I tried to recall…

“My name is Nene. You-, you treated me to-, to Chowking Bajada once.” she said almost inaudibly amidst her sobbing.

Oh. I remembered. She was this girl that I and Shooti picked up from the overpass near Victoria Plaza.

Shooti once took me to his boarding house, which was in Doña Vicenta. He asked me to help him make his assignment.

After we finished it, he walked with me all the way to Laurel. There, we saw this girl in the malodorous overpass, sitting on the floor barefooted. Her feet were wet with the foul cocktail of urine, rainwater and phlegm that gathered on the floor.

Shooti asked her to stand up. Then we went to the nearby Chowking branch where he treated her.

As we did with every child we treat, we ask the girl about who she is.

She said her name was Nene, and that she was eight years old. She was a Badjao. She was taken to the city by her father after her mother died to find a good life. But unfortunately, the father wasn’t able to find a job and the two ended up being beggars. Just a few weeks before that, she said, her father went missing. She attributed it to the Mayor’s “cleaning up.” Then she commented that her father shouldn’t have started the trend of spitting at those who won’t give alms.

We found her to be quite an interesting little girl, being very opinionated and well informed about current events. She believed, like I did, that Mindanao should be separated constitutionally from the Philippine government in Manila. Yes. She even used the word “Constitutionally.” When we asked her where she gets her knowledge, she said that she got it from listening to the “grown ups:” the trisikad drivers and the passers by who frequent the overpass. The “grown ups” would talk about this and that, and she would sometimes join in listening and even asking.

But despite her extensive knowledge, she did admit that she had a hard time understanding English.

After that, I excused myself because I had to go and meet my friend Clyde. So I went out and went straight to my boarding house to meet him.

It had been a few weeks now since I last saw her. I can therefore be forgiven if I forgot all about her, considering the fact that we treated many children after that.

Nene was crying, and she was looking at me with eyes that showed that she had been doing so for quite some time now. Her dark, dirty face, which I was accustomed to seeing as being filled with brilliance, was now filled with misery.

I knew I had to take her with me. Shooti would really admire it if I did. If I took her with me, then I’d be showing Shooti how he has affected me and he will be pleased with me. Maybe, just maybe, if I impressed him, I could win him back…

So I called the taxi that was passing by. I ushered Nene to get in first, then I got in before telling the driver to take us to Torres.

It was four-thirty. The sun was beginning to set. Davao now lost her daytime seriousness and replaced it with her nocturnal playfulness. The streets were filled with vehicles, and the windows of the high rising buildings mirrored the busy avenue in which our taxi was in.

Soon, the taxi came to Torres and we stopped by where the Kasagingan was.

The Kasagingan was this really popular coffee shop that was in Torres Street, which was perpendicular to Laurel. The wealthy youth usually frequent it, bringing their laptops and making use of the Wireless Internet connection.

After I gave the driver the fare, we came down from the taxi. The guard greeted us a good afternoon as we went ahead.

From where we were standing, I could see Marian sitting by the table on the farthest left side of the open area, away from the gazebo.

She sat with her legs crossed. The handle of a teacup was between her left hand’s fingers and its rim covered her lips. She was wearing a short sleeved white blouse and a pair of fitting denim city shorts that reached just below her knee. On her feet were what looked like a really expensive pair of slippers.

She had long dark brown hair. Her complexion was so pale that it would be difficult to miss her in a crowd. Her eyes, deep green and snake like, were looking at us.

She stood up.

“Sorry for being late.” I said when we arrived at the table.

“It’s okay.” she replied quite indifferently. “And this is..?” she added, eyeing Nene.

“Oh, her name is Nene. I and Shooti met her a few weeks ago. I saw her crying outside the Ateneo and figured I should take her with me to cheer her up. Nene, this is my cousin Marian.”

“Pleased to meet you, little girl.” said Marian quite shrewdly. While she said that, she looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

“You met her with whom?”

“Andy Lao.”

I looked down out of shame. Marian never approved of Shooti, and she strongly discouraged me from associating myself with him. She always said that Shooti was just another one of those “pretty seeds that grow up into weeds.”

Marian was a very opinionated girl, and she always classified people into types. Boys, for example, she classified into four.

“The first type,” I could remember her telling me when we were in elementary “is the lowest. They are ugly seeds that grow up to become gruesome weeds. They will be drooling idiots with no breeding for the rest of their pathetic lifespan. You won’t need to uproot them because they’ll end up uprooting themselves.”

Yeah, I know, she’s mean.

“The second is mildly better but all together more dangerous. They are pretty seeds that grow up to be mere weeds. These peculiarities may attract your attention as young boys but they will grow up as drooling idiots with no breeding as well. These specimens are quite uncommon, but are very dangerous if not uprooted.

“The third is a rare type. They are ugly seeds that, with perseverance and sometimes a deep grudge, grow up to be prizes of great beauty and refinement. Your typical Ugly Duckling story, or perhaps, to spark more interest, ala Monte Cristo.

“The final type is by far the rarest. I have only met two of these in my colorful life. They are those that were born and will be destined to possess tremendous beauty and breeding. But alas! Most of them are doomed to have a tragic end, as in the case of the legendary Adonis.”

She stared at me with a raised eyebrow for a while, burning me with my own guilt. It’s as if, with those snake-like eyes, she was telling me “why didn’t you listen to me?” She was such an influential person!

Soon, she broke her gorgon’s glare and allowed me to sit down.

Nene was still sobbing. Somehow, the whole “taking her out and treating her” plan wasn’t working to improve her mood. I began to feel embarrassed by her noise.

I looked around.

It was about a quarter to five. There were still very few people in the Kasagingan, and only a few tables were occupied.

In the gazebo, a couple was together, smiling as they look at their laptop. On the other corner of the area, beneath another banana leaf -shaped roof was a pair of women, probably in their thirties. Both had their legs crossed and both were smoking rather opulently. On the table right behind where Marian sat were two teenage girls, talking in deep British about James Joyce.

Thankfully, nobody seemed to be bothered. Even Marian didn’t seem to mind the little Badjao’s sobbing.

Suddenly, Marian clapped her hands to beckon a waiter to come.

The waiter, who was obviously not used to being called like that, nonetheless approached.

“What will you have?” Marian asked me.

“Oh, I’ll just have double hot fudge. And may I have a glass of water for this girl?”

The waiter nodded and left towards the counter to give the order.

As was the trend in most coffee shops these days, some Bossa Nova tracks were playing. This time, it was Sitti’s rendition of Fly Me to the Moon that was being played.

“Would you mind telling me about this girl’s life, Sarah? I am itching with curiosity.” Marian said suddenly.

That request struck me like a dart. It had a dual meaning. She knew what I was thinking…

“Uhm, okay.”

I began telling her what Nene herself told us when we treated her to Chowking. All the while, Nene continued to cry gravely and somewhat desperately.

As Marian listened, she was staring at the little girl, who was in turn staring blankly at the table crying. Marian’s face was so passive that I doubted if she listened to me. She would later prove that she was listening by constantly asking questions and nodding amidst her stare on Nene.

After I related to her Nene’s life, I was silent.

“In other words, please be true…”

At length our order came. I had a cup of hot chocolate while Marian was serenely drinking tea. Nene, on the other hand, was still crying, though once in a while she would take the glass of water in front of her and drink from it. But then she would continue on crying.

“All of you had a bad day, I guess.” suddenly said Marian.

That shattered the silence.

Then, she gave a sigh.

“It’s sad to know that there are fewer and fewer Acacias nowadays.” She added, looking around.

She knew what was on my mind. She definitely knew it…

Then, she suddenly stood up.

“I have to be going now, Sarah, Nene. I have an appointment with my friend Clyde by five-thirty. If you will excuse me…”

Then, with her handbag on her shoulder, she elegantly left.

Nene continued to sob. But I could sense that her sobbing was beginning to weaken.

Somehow, at the back of my mind, I could guess why she was crying. But it was too out of this world. It was too impossible. It was too unacceptable to me.

Honestly, I don’t want to know why she was crying. I never really did want to know why. I don’t want to know…

But this girl was a brave little girl. Her parents are gone, with one dead and the other hopelessly missing. She had to stand on her own two, bare feet, and this she did. She walked the distance from the miserable overpass near Victoria Plaza in which she lived all the way to Jacinto at the foot of the Ateneo via the Laurel Avenue, and she did so with full courage and with bare feet.

This was a brave girl, and she had no reason to be afraid.

So she said it. She said why she was crying.

But no. I don’t want to hear. She was brave, but I wasn’t.

No.

Please don’t.

I don’t want to hear it.

“Ate…” she began amidst her sobbing.

No.

Don’t continue.

Please don’t.

I don’t want to hear it.

“ Ate, Kuya Shooti-, he-, he-”

No.

Please stop.

I don’t want to hear it.

“This morning ate, he-, he took me to-, to McDonald’s as he often does. Like always, ate, he-, he was talking about this Maying”

“Always?” “Maying?” what did this mean?

“He always said bad things about-, about her and that she was a slut that-, that didn’t let him fuck her.”

She said the “f” word so casually. She obviously didn’t know what it meant.

“He said-, he said, ate, that Maying was a useless slut of a girlfriend because he wouldn’t let him fuck her and that-, and that his friends were bastards who-, who always boasted about-, about being fucked. Ate, I-, I never really understood why, but-, but he sounded really-, really angry when he said that. He said it in straight English and I couldn’t understand it. It was as if-, as if he never wanted me to-, understand anyway, ate. All I could-, I could remember were his-, his words ‘dat Maying is a paking slat’ and ‘dos paking bastards tink deyr so kool. Deyr paking bastards.’ Ate, what did those mean?”

I didn’t reply. I was deeply thinking, taking my slippers off and putting my feet on my chair, crouching, hugging my folded legs.

Images of Shooti entered my mind again.

…He was banging his hand on the wall, frustrated at something. Suddenly, some laughter came out from nowhere, and he began to violently look around him. The laughter was mixed with jeers, ones that insult how he was still a virgin and what a coward he was for not having been able to do it with Maying…

He was being pressured.

No.

No.

Shooti would never think like that. He would never speak like that.

No.

I don’t want to hear it.

“And then ate…”

I don’t want to hear it..!

Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars; let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.

“Then, ate, he-, kuya, he…”

 In other words, hold my hand. In other words, darling, kiss me.

“He-, he took me to his, to his boarding house…”

 Fill my heart with song and let me sing forevermore. You are all I long for, all I worship and adore.

“Nobody was there, so he-, he took me to his room…”

 In other words, please be true, in other words, I love you.

 “He suddenly, he suddenly grabbed me…”  

Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars; let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.

“He-, he threw me on the bed…”

 In other words, hold my hand. In other words, darling, kiss me.

Fill my heart with song…

Fill my heart with song…

Fill my heart…

Fill my…

Fill my…

“Then, ate, then, he did it.”

No.

No.

This couldn’t be.

Keep on singing.

Don’t absorb it.

Fly me to the moon…

No.

No.

This couldn’t be.

No.

Tears began to fall from my eyes. I couldn’t drown the truth anymore. I couldn’t drown it with the song anymore.

Shooti…

What has become of you, Shooti..?

What has become of you..?

I looked at my slippers on the floor.

It was five in the afternoon. Torres was beginning to grow busy with traffic as the patrons of the various restaurants and clubs begin to come to their favorite places.

I looked at my slippers on the floor. I don’t want to put them on anymore.

No.

I don’t want to put those slippers on anymore.

 

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